Opinion

Planters, Parasites & Peasants

Summary

Look at Unilever’s recent subversion of the sachet law to prevent pollution. Meanwhile not a word from the usually vociferous ‘environmentalists’.

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Not a moment goes by without some loving recall of how wonderful it was when the white man was here and their wonderful legacy. But they never left. Their multinational monopolies, like Unilever and Ceylon Tobacco still dominate and get away with murder. Look at Unilever’s recent subversion of the sachet law to prevent pollution. Meanwhile not a word from the usually vociferous ‘environmentalists’. But Unilever does more than pollute. They control the media. Look at the persistent outcry against import restrictions. And most criminal of all: these import monopolies inhibit industrialization.

Every dedicated Asian, African and real American leader 100 years ago, from Dharmapala and Wimalasurendra to Sun Yat-sen and Mao Ze Dong, Ataturk to Nkrumah, Marti to Mariategui, saw industrialization as indispensable to extricate us from imperialist control. Yet – despite all the glowing paeans to govi and kamkaru – industrialization is prevented here. The large bulk of worker power in Lanka is still trapped in the countryside: our real site of repeated tectonic dissonance.
Due to the nature of the much-lauded but continually underdeveloped rice economy, rural workers are used only sporadically, without work for long periods of the year. And the greater percentage of the rice harvested is consumed by the cultivators themselves! Future harvests, even before they are sown are already owed to merchants and moneylenders. Who sell them overpriced imported goods that could be made in villages. Japan, China, have all shown us this.

The challenge is to invest and transform the rural economy, and unleash the power of those workers to build our country. It is not capital or foreign exchange we lack, but political will. It cannot be done because of the leviathan holding high over his head a giant boulder made of the finest English glass.

Leviathan says if you remove me this glass will shatter on your heads. This leviathan is the “private” sector, who have hijacked the investment resources of the country, who cannot gainfully employ our workers, yet have enough capital to invest in useless endeavors, in qet-rich-qik ponzis, build condos, buying and selling other countries’ goods, importing luxuries, and stage-managing many wars without end. They have broadbased this mercantile economy turning thousands of people into little petty merchants peddling shards of this English boulder, thieving each other and the larger populace.
All this clamor from Geneva to Manhattan is used to preserve the iniquitous past: Any attempt to change the economic system to actually serve our people will unleash more mayhem. That’s the lesson to be learned.

The ‘West India System’ of Human Resources

Jaffna used to be called a money-order economy, with salaries sent in from workers sent from Colombo and Malaysia. Now all of Sri Lanka has become a remittance money-order economy. Why do we have to export our greatest wealth: workers. They once said that a worker who finds work abroad will be given a lakh as a parting gift. Alas and alack, indeed! Do workers really prefer to find work elsewhere. Where do we get our ideas of treating our workers. Was it always this way?

Here is one distinct origin, our human-resource experts are happy to publicly ignore.

In 1840, the year the English waged their first war on China to force opium on them, Robert Boyd Tytler arrived in Lanka from the Caribbean island of English-enslaved Jamaica, bringing his ‘expertise’ on the “West India System” of coffee planting. He brought a copy of JP Laborie’s Coffee Planter of Santo Domingo, which became the bible on ‘plantation development’ here. In that very year, the Crown Lands Ordinance Act was passed, making land a commodity to be bought and sold. English officials, judges, bishops and generals were already robbing Kandyan lands en masses: resistance was still rife. But in this seventh year after the supposed abolition of African chattel slavery, they were also spreading enslaved ‘indentured’ Indian labor across the world, giving rise to the great shipping conglomerates of today.

One would think that a slave owner from Haiti would be last person to give advice on successful planting, after heroic Haiti’s expulsion of 3 colonial armies, but extracts from Laborie’s book were excerpted in the Ceylon Miscellany Vol. 2 in 1842, without changing the word ‘Negro.’ Laborie advised: “Punishments must be certain, immediately inflicted, proportionable to the fault, and never excessive. Racks, tortures, mayhems, mutilations, and death are reserved for crimes of an atrocious nature, and fall only within the province of the public magistrate: through perhaps more speedy executions, and particularly on the spot, would have more striking effect.”

It seemed to be popular advice: in 1863, The Coffee Planter of Santo Domingo was reprinted in Lanka with the preface: ‘Laborie, though an old writer, is still the authority on all that relates to Coffee planting. The principles laid down by him so many years ago in the West Indies, are those which still guide the managers of Ceylon properties.’

The sun shall never set on the image of Cool Britannia, but nor shall its bloodshed dry.

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